Preview 2018: Special Teams Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2018 at 4:57 PM

[Bryan Fuller]

Previously: Podcast 10.0A. Podcast 10.0B. Podcast 10.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Tackle. Interior Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety.

Depth Chart

Kicker Yr Punter Yr Kickoffs Yr Punt return Yr Kick return Yr
Quinn Nordin So.* Brad Robbins So. Jake Moody Fr. Donovan Peoples-Jones So. Ambry Thomas So.
Jake Moody Fr. Will Hart So.* Quinn Nordin So.*    Oliver Martin Fr.* Donovan Peoples-Jones So.   

Kickers can kick far, but not always straight. The punters cannot kick far, and not always straight. Donovan Peoples-Jones can field some punts, but not other punts, unless he can this year. It's special teams, people, predictions are for rubes.

KICKER: SOMEONE CALIBRATE BIG BERTHA PLEASE

Rating: 4, but maybe 5.

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this one is for the haircut [Bryan Fuller]

It all happened so fast with QUINN NORDIN. One day he was a promising redshirt freshman; the next he was already on Michigan's leaderboards for most 50+ yard field goals in program history. Around these parts we have what I call a "bet" and Ace calls "certainly an OSHA violation" where he has to get a Wild Thing haircut if Nordin hits two 50-yarders in one game. Because Nordin has—probably had at this point—that haircut.

We didn't listen.

The haircut whispered dark tidings like "hey maybe miss this one" into Nordin's ear and he listened enough to create a mid-season swoon severe enough for Harbaugh and Nordin to have a bit of a public spat after his third straight miss. "Hey! Make a field goal!" Harbaugh probably said, and Nordin probably said "That's what I'm trying to do!" in response, as one does. Then both said "DANGIT" at the same time and "JINX" at the same time three seconds later and everything was fine again.

Compounding the field goal misses were three missed extra points, one of which was going to be the way Michigan lost to OSU until they found a different way to lose.

The good news is that Nordin banged in all four of his attempts in the bowl game, including a 48-yarder, and finished the season 19 of 24. These days hitting almost 80% isn't an incredible feat, but it's still pretty good. FEI's Field Goal Efficiency Metric, which takes distance into account, ranked him 25th in D-I.

Having expectations for kickers is a rube's game but let's be rubes: the heart of a wide distribution here is another season exactly like the one Nordin had with maybe one extra point miss. And maybe one absolute bomb from halfway across the state. Here's the bit where the spring game field goal goes:

Good from 70. Easy.

FWIW, Michigan did bring in JAKE MOODY as a grayshirt. He got a scholarship this fall after some attrition but is probably on a first-come-first-serve basis until he gets a starting job. Moody has a giant leg himself, with three field goals of 55+ yards last year, and unlike Nordin he got to use it. His 39 field goals is a state record.

Since the James "Doug" Foug  tactic has been nerfed by the NCAA—you can now call a fair catch inside the 25 on a kickoff and it counts as a touchback—the play on kickoffs is to blast them out of the back of the endzone. Moody seems like a good candidate to do that, and good backup plan if Nordin has a full #collegekickers meltdown. Which is unlikely. But, I mean... yeah.

[After the JUMP: aaargh you punt the ball farther than that]

PUNTER: WTF DOT GIF

Rating: 2.

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punters are supposed to be normal [Patrick Barron]

Kickers are weird. We know this. We feel it in our souls when they hop up and down after they keeck a touchdown. Punters are just guys with long levers and no pressure who can just go and do stuff. If you get a good punter recruit, he's a good punter. This is how it works. There's no #collegepunters hash tag.

Welp, maybe there should be. One year after Kenny Allen's beautiful boomers soared through the sky, Michigan found itself with an extra slot at the end of the cycle and signed up BRAD ROBBINS [recruiting profile], who had emerged as a couple of kicking specialist sites' top punter in the class. Robbins proceeded to lose the job to walk-on WILL HART; Hart proceeded to shank about a third of his kicks for three games, paving the way for Robbins. That hardly went any better. Robbins averaged just over 40 yards a kick, had almost as many returns allowed (22) as fair catches (23) despite the poor gross average, and helped Michigan allow 198 return yards as a team.

There were blips of promise. Robbins banged a 48-yarder or better in almost every game. But when Adam thought he saw an upward trend towards the end of the season he was quickly smacked back down to reality:

Robbins was able to boot three punts over 50 yards and two over 60 in this game and yet still couldn’t manage to avoid interspersing these in there.

This came to define his season. He was a really hard player for me to get a hold on because there wasn’t a clear progression or regression, just a guy who could explode in any direction. Sometimes he was launching balls that were no-doubt fair catches with plenty of hang time, other times he pushed returners to the sideline or well inside the 20, and still other times he dropped punts 15 yards short of the returner and not in a way that seemed intentional. The hope for next year is that he gains better command; he could instantly go from ehhh to excellent next season if all he does is stop being erratic when kicking from around Michigan’s 45.

Robbins saved the worst for last, averaging under 35 yards a punt in the bowl game. Finally fed up, Michigan turned to Hart once again. His only punt also went 35 yards. Time to set everything on fire:

Among 164 punters who appeared in at least three games last season, Will Hart and Brad Robbinsranked 155th and 108th with punting averages of 35.9 and 40.4 yards. Worse, Robbins’ ranking in net punting (punting yardage minus return yardage) dropped all the way to 133rd at just 35.9 yards (Hart's was consistent at 154th).

What now? Well, 24/7 does offer optimism that Robbins can find some consistency:

First, looking back at last season’s top 10 punters, the nine non-freshmen punters averaged 41.2 yards per punt their first season of punting and 44.5 yards per punt their second season. Robbins is a tad behind the curve, but the fact that only six of those punters even attempted a punt as a true freshman is also notable.

A similar improvement would get Michigan to average. Unfortunately, it sounds like Robbins is laid up. He did not participate in the open practice. Hart seemed to be the top guy in his stead.

Michigan did not return to the scholarship well this year but was very active finding walk-ons. Moody punted—not that well—in high school. GEORGE CATARAN is a person who exists and reportedly had a 46-yard average last year. He took a prep year and may be more prepared to contribute immediately than your average freshman, FWIW.

RETURN UNITS: INTERESTING TIMES

Rating: 3.5

DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES stepped into Jabrill Peppers's very large punt return shoes and had a bit of a wobbler. On the one hand, this:

On the other, DPJ muffed two punts and had a very un-Peppers stretch midseason where it seemed like every one of his decisions to field or pass on a punt was incorrect. The muff in the bowl game was a doink off his chestplate that went right to a South Carolina player and greatly contributed to the Keystone Kops ending to Michigan's season.

Partridge says that offseason work has made DPJ more natural as a returner:

“Obviously coming in, Donovan wasn't as natural of a punt return guy. “Not that he's not good or great at it, some guys are just natural at understanding and how to judge, center field-type guys who judge fly balls or judge punt returns. He did have a little bit of a learning curve and he really worked at it.”

"... His improvement in the spring, now you look at him catching a punt and you're like, ‘oh, he is a natural punt return guy.’ He's figured it out and he's gotten so much better at it.”

We'll see if that translates.

If it doesn't and DPJ either loses or withdraws from the role, Partridge mentioned OLIVER MARTIN first amongst chasers; he's "worked himself into becoming a pretty good punt returner." DAVID LONG, LAVERT HILL, and CHRIS EVANS were the other names in the mix. It sounds like Martin is locked in as plan B.

Kickoff returns matter less every year and Michigan seems to have let them go as they search for leverage elsewhere. AMBRY THOMAS emerged into the top and only guy last year and will likely reprise that role since he is reputed to be the fastest guy on the team. He did a whole lot of nothing last year because his blockers did a whole lot of nothing in front of him. KR is such a high variance activity that predictions are fruitless, but don't expect fireworks.

Comments

m_go_T

August 31st, 2018 at 6:40 PM ^

Not sure how I feel about DPJ or Oliver Martin returning punts this season.  Until we have a full depth chart of WR, we should probably have Thomas return punts.  

Arinix

August 31st, 2018 at 6:53 PM ^

Do you guys think that most of Nordin's struggles last season was youth, which is espeically important for a kicker?

 

I think he will be much improved with another year under his belt.

 

In regards to Punters, I'm really concerned. What ever happened to the days of Kenny Allen?

steve sharik

September 1st, 2018 at 7:14 AM ^

How many guys/teams are going to fair catch a kickoff inside the 25? I still think the strategy is to Foug it. At least give yourself a chance at winning that field position battle.

MDSup3rDup3

September 1st, 2018 at 9:30 AM ^

Other places refer to Justin Tucker of the Ravens when discussing this. It's using a K on kickoffs that can ping long hang-time kicks to the goal line or just short thereof. It allows the coverage team to fly down the field and pin the opponent deep by being in position when the kick is caught. The strategy came into play when Touchbacks on kickoffs moved from the 20 to the 25. Pinning returners inside the 25 was a win. With the new rule, these kicks are more likely to be fair caught. We will see what happens.

Personally, if they want to reduce kickoff injuries, just remove the kickoff. There's some plans out there that would change the kickoff to a 4th and 15 situation from your own 35 (we will ignore the name that has been attributed to the idea for obvious reasons). In most cases, this would obviate a punt, which has less injury risk because everyone starts on the line of scrimmage and not getting a 45 yard head of steam to kill someone. Making it 4th and 15 allows for teams to attempt an "onside kick" by picking up 15 yards in some manner. It's more of a solution than what has been going on in the NCAA lately. Full description of that plan in the link.

https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine